Only a fortnight after the leviathan of Glastonbury closed its door, the tiny WOW festival in South Norfolk came as something of a culture shock. The whole festival – arena, camping and stalls – would easily fit inside the John Peel Tent. Those looking for something of an old school vibe, however, could do a lot worse than seek out this resolutely unbranded, family friendly event.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s a series of Albion fairs were held in East Anglia, and were a gathering place for rural counterculture in the East – they were like a village fete that had gone wrong. Now the stuff of legend, it was a real pleasure to find something of their spirit alive and well at the curiously named WOW festival. Sensibly priced food, ale filled tankards, a mix of straw bales and old sofas to sit on, home-made cakes served on real plates, three legged dogs catching Frisbees, more smokers than vapers, dreadlocked travellers chatting happily with local OAPs, and folk of all ages and backgrounds simply getting on, you can’t help but feel his is how festivals ought to be.
It’s not an easy festival to find. Just outside Diss, a small town straddling the Norfolk/Suffolk border, there was nothing beyond a single sign pointing to a gap in the hedge. With no fences or barriers to speak of, the festival instead takes advantages of the natural contours of the land, nestling within a beautiful wooded area on a road to nowhere.
An early Friday evening start, the festival kicked off sleepily, with local talent High Point, followed by Suburban Minds, gamely vying for the attention of a crowd still getting its bearings. That all changed with a hilarious turn from Pirate Joe. Reminiscent of Nick Helm, he combined genuine musical talent with an anarchic stage presence as funny as it was tuneful. Superglu, up next,were great fun, and full of energy - when they ran out of material they just went through their set all over again! Although these acts are generally local and unsigned bands, it’s obviously that WoW is curated with some care and an eye for future success stories. A week later Superglu stormed the BBC introducing stage at Latitude, and are undoubtedly destined from great things. They were certainly a fitting warm up for the night’s headliners, the nine piece jazz-tinged hip hop collective, The Mouse Outfit, who kicked things into life on the main stage. They were followed, some might say topped, by my highlight of the day, as back on the smaller beer tent stage Captain Flat Cap’s infectious cocktail of funk, folk and drum and bass really got the crowd up and dancing.
By Saturday it felt like the festival was truly up and running, with mesmerising guitar work from Simon Wilkins, who touchingly broke off from his set midpoint to allow his eighty-something father to read A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad. Wilkins was followed by a charming set from Bessie Turner, yet another artist the BBC have chosen to since showcase. With acts then alternating between the stages, and a decidedly fluid running order (hastily written up on a white board) there was always something to see. American folk act Low Lilybrought some welcome variety to proceedings, as did the melodic alt-country of Morganway, and the carnival punk of Thy Last Drop, while local favourites Das Boot received the most enthusiastic response of all. For me, notwithstanding the heavy dub of Horseman’s headliner slot and a storming set from Dingus Khan which followed, the highlight of Saturday, however, the day was last minute addition, the marvellously bonkers Druids. A Space Rock/Glam confection fronted by a Russell Brand lookalike confounded all expectation with a bewildering mix of infectious melodies and bizarre antics.
And so on to Sunday, and already the festival was tangibly winding down. While it was initially confusing to see the main stage being dismantled, it quickly became apparent that this was to be a largely acoustic day, starting and finishing early in the beer tent, so that we could all depart in good time and in good spirits. With only one stage to play with, timings and running orders quickly disintegrated, but nobody seemed to mind. Nobody, after all, was in much of a hurry, with the day given over to different permutations of the same musicians, playing under the names of Alden, Patterson & Dashwood, the Horo Quintet, the DoDo Streetband, and Whiskey Moonface. There was still room for surprises, however, and one of the biggest was the brilliant jazz/electronica fusion of Mammal Hands, an extraordinarily gifted group of virtuoso musicians that we will surely see more of. Their performance came just at the right moment, the perfect sorbet from all that folk, setting the stage perfectly for the exuberant and youthful Ushti Baba, who finally got the crowd up on their feet and dancing, for one last hurrah.
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